Zone denial

Fragrant Violets

I heard a new term the other day: songworm, the tune you can’t get out of your head. Happened just in time; ever since Valentines Day I’ve been hearing Frank Sinatra singing I Bought You Violets For Your Furs.

purple fragrant violets, Viola odorata

A classic bouquet of violets, tightly bound stems, galax leaf frame (no doily, however)

If that sounds more than a little old fashioned, that’s because it is. The song is only in my head because my father used to croon it to my mother and whether he ever bought her any I do not know. They did court in New York City in the late ‘30s, when nosegays of fragrant violets were still a staple of winter romance. But by the time I grew up the whole tradition – along with the violets – was long gone.

Or make that almost gone.

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The New U.S.D.A. Climate Zone Map

lavender hybrid gladioli in a cutting garden

Zone 6 zone denial tip: standard hybrid gladioli are reliably hardy only to zone 9 - or 8b, maybe - but if you have well drained soil, plant them 5 or 6 inches deep and mulch heavily in fall (in this case before the ground freezes), there’s a good chance they’ll come back.

By now you’ve probably gotten the word: the long awaited, massively updated USDA Climate Zone map, the first revision since 1990, has finally arrived. And  – insert giant snarky “this is news?” – it shows large swaths of the country have moved up at least a half zone.

In 1991, when I got together with Bill and began gardening in the Hudson Valley, I could joke that my new life didn’t net me a single climate zone, even though the NY garden is about 300 miles southwest of the one in Maine. Until a couple of weeks ago, they were both in zone 5b. Now, while New York remains 5b – by the skin of its teeth, from the looks of things – Maine has been promoted to 6a.

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Passionflower, Fuchsia, Lemon Verbena and More – Tender Plants are now in for Winter. Except the Fig

It’s a ‘Chicago Hardy’, reputedly among the toughest, this year’s shot at zone denial. The goal is to have it live outdoors all winter, without dying down to the roots.

But our part of the Hudson Valley is still zone 5b, though teetering on the edge of 6, and figs are not hardy north of zone 7.  So what makes me think we can pull this off?  Pure hubris? My usual oversupply of sunny optimism ? Too much research into fig protection during the Times Q&A days?

Some of each, I have no doubt. But the main reason to give it a try is this house’s uniquely suitable spot, a double protected corner facing southwest.

The fig in late September, slightly taller than 6 feet. It arrived in May as a single 30 inch stick with a tiny shoot at the bottom.

The fig in late September, slightly taller than 5 feet, planted as close as possible to a very cosy corner.

If you count the fact that the house ( circa 1870) is not exactly a model of tightness, the protection is triple. But double is the important part; the corner has extra backup because the house sides don’t meet.

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Maypop or May Not – pushing the zone with Passiflora incarnata

Old Faithful, the tropical passionflower (species unknown) that has been going from greenhouse to windowbox and back again for years has brought us a great deal of pleasure. The thing’s an unkillable blooming fool that makes about 14 feet of growth each summer.

it's all one vine - base is at lower right

it's all one vine, base at lower right

But it’s also brought us a great deal of aggravation. Moving large plants back and forth between the Maine coast and the Hudson Valley is not my favorite thing.  

So wouldn’t it be great to have a passionflower that was willing to live outdoors? YES! Passionflowers are almost all denizens of zones 9 and south, but there is one, the native Passiflora incarnata, rated hardy to Zone 6 or 7 – and we are almost 6.

Passiflora incarnata, aka Maypop

Passiflora incarnata, aka Maypop

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